Creative and collaborative facilitators are essential to make Bmore Historic a rich learning experience for all participants. This guide (based on the CC BY-licensed SRCCON Facilitator Guide) can help you think about planning and running a great session.
What is a Facilitator & What do they do?
Facilitators at Bmore Historic have three important responsibilities:
- Guide: You set an agenda for the group. Present the topic and keep the session moving forward.
- Invite: You help make sure everyone feels able to participate, not just the people who already feel comfortable speaking up.
- Organize: You help everyone make the session productive. That means keeping an eye on time and working through the activities on your agenda. At the end, you bring everything to a close, helping attendees summarize what they worked on and calling out key takeaways.
Facilitators don’t need to come in with all the answers. You’re there to guide discussions or collaborative work, and to help attendees contribute and walk away having learned something new.
We also encourage facilitators to recruit volunteers in their session to serve as the note-taker and time-keeper:
- Note-taker: Record important points, conclusions, and resources.
- Time-keeper: Keep people aware of time and help them use it productively.
Depending on your agenda for the session, you can also recruit a gate-keeper who keeps the discussion productive. The gate-keeper is invited to step into the discussion and ask if people who haven’t said anything yet would like to, politely interrupt people who have been talking too long, and redirect the discussion back on-topic if it gets derailed.
Planning Your Session Before Bmore Historic
Planning your session doesn’t need to be an difficult process. A fascinating discussion can start with just few leading questions or a simple activity. But it helps to keep a two things in mind:
- Scope: Broad topics need some boundaries, or conversations won’t go anywhere. Sessions on niche topics are great, but you need to find ways for a variety of people to participate. Coming up with too many activities can make it impossible to get to your goals, but a session that’s under-designed can easily turn into a conversation between a handful of the loudest people.
- Outcomes: Think about what you want attendees to take away from your session. A new or improved skill? A broader sense of community? The excitement of solving a problem they’d been facing alone? If you start planning your session by thinking about the end, it can help you focus everything leading up to that moment.
We welcome a wide variety of session formats: writing activities, games, technical workshops, role-playing, even physical movement, and field trips around the museum. Fun is good!
Another thing to consider as you outline your session: Expect the unexpected. It’s easy to imagine the best-case scenario, where everything runs smoothly and according to plan—and that’s probably exactly how your session will go! But what if you ask your first question and no one answers? What if someone shares an amazing idea, and you want to follow up on it? You’ll be responding to situations like these on the fly, and you’ll be a lot more confident if you’ve thought through some scenarios in advance. Plan more material than you think you’ll need, and know you can feel good about dropping some of it—you just don’t know which parts it will be.
Facilitating Your Session at Bmore Historic
How many people will be in my session?
About one hundred people attend Bmore Historic each year and we schedule 4 or 5 sessions at a time, so most sessions will around 20 to 25 people in the room. Some topics will draw fewer—and that’s fine! Some of the smallest sessions at the unconference are very meaningful for the people who are there, and we want to encourage those conversations.
Some sessions might bring in larger crowds as well, so we encourage you to spend a little time thinking about how you might accommodate different group sizes.
What materials will I have?
We will make sure all our meeting rooms have note paper, post-it notes, pens, and sharpies. We’ll also have giant scratchpads on easel and a limited number of spaces with screens and projectors. We encourage facilitators to avoid relying on a slideshow or PowerPoint presentation—instead you can look to the participants in the room to shape the discussion and share their own knowledge and experiences.
Tips on Effective Facilitation
Start by setting some ground rules. This can be super helpful for participants, and for you to refer back to as facilitator. Some examples:
- Everyone should speak 1/n of the time, where n is the number of people in the room. This encourages folks to be conscious of how much they are speaking. An additional note is that speaking and offering opinions is not the only way to contribute to a session: listening and asking questions are also powerful ways to participate.
- Respect the schedule.
- Be curious and generous.
Take advantage of your power as facilitator. You’ve set the agenda, and your role is to guide and support conversation.
- You can decide in the moment how to handle unexpected challenges. You can also decide when it is best to throw out your original agenda and try something new.
- If a problematic comment comes up in your session, you can confront the issue.
- Guide the tenor of the discussion—it’s a conversation, not a debate. Try to make sure the room isn’t dominated by just a few voices; keep an eye out for body language that says “I might have something to add” even when that person doesn’t feel confident enough to cut in. Go ahead and call on that person to see if they’d like to say something. You can also tell people who keep chatting that you’d like to hear from others in the room.
- Elicit reflection from the group. “Noticings,” or observations without judgment, can help participants build self-awareness and explore statements. For example, “I noticed that you referenced a study, could you say more about what struck you about it?” When you do get a comment that’s not quite what you expected, you can almost always find part of it to build on.
Work with people in the room. Leading a group of creative people toward a common goal can be hard, especially while you’re juggling time, information, and conversations. Don’t be afraid to ask an enthusiastic attendee to help keep time, take notes, or watch for people with something to say.
Be clear about outcomes. Call out the goals for each discussion at the outset, check along the way that you’re making progress toward them, and review goals at the end of the session. (This is sometimes referred to as “tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them.”)
Overall, use your wisdom and passion as your guide. We greatly appreciate you sharing your time and knowledge with the group, and trust each facilitator to create an optimal sharing environment.